It was almost a rite of passage where I grew up. Each summer as the school year ended we'd watch the fruit ripening and talk about where we'd be "cutting cots". The boys picked, the girls cut - unless your parents owned the property, then you just did whatever you were told to do (and prayed for a bit of tractor time).
The temperatures were usually in the high 30's, early 40's. We stood on a concrete floor under a tin shed, which often had a sprinkler sitting on its roof in a futile attempt to cool things down. It didn't work.
We dressed in shorts and sleeveless shirts and arrived carrying coolers of icy cold cordial and sandwiches packed in our lunch boxes. The only tool required was a knife. The trays were a heavy splintered wood. You'd begin by placing your first tray at a low level, and as each tray was completed you'd stack another on top, again and again until you couldn't reach any further.
My sister and I would stand across from each other trying to look like we weren't in a race, but we were. Cut the apricot in half, flick the stone in the bin at your feet, place the two halves down on the tray. Repeat. Cut the apricot in the half, flick the stone in the bin at your feet, place the two halves down on the tray. Repeat. Cut the apricot in half...
There were so many rituals within the ritual. How many trays did you cut before you stopped for a break. How many trays did you stack before you moved them and began again. We'd listen to bad radio and giggle at the "cash classifieds". "What have you got for us today?" the announcer would ask "Well Tim, I've got three beautiful crocheted toilet roll holders I'd like to sell" The shed would erupt into giggles.
I remember the day that the "Fresh Food People" began selling the Turkish Apricots. I remember the look of dismay on my father's face when he told us we'd soon be seeing dried apricots shipped from Turkey in our local supermarket. The Turkish apricots were cheaper to produce, they weren't cut in half, they were just pressed flat and thrown into a packet. I imagined the person who made the decision, sitting in their corporate office doing the numbers. Making a choice that cheaper was better. Better for the bottom line.
Slowly over time, the apricot trees disappeared. As did the rituals. I remember years later scouring the supermarkets in the city looking for an old style dried apricot, they were nowhere to be found.
On the weekend I was wandering through the farmers market and literally squealed at my discovery. Hand cut, dried and packed into little ziplock bags, there they were. I think I may have scared the woman at the stall with my excitement "it's so good to find REAL apricots" she smiled, nodded and quickly made eye contact with someone else.
I took my new discovery home and placed them on a tray, face up and neatly in line, until I realized what I was doing and quickly jumbled them all up.
Old habits die hard.
Did you have a summer job? Have you seen a ritual from your childhood disappear?